By: Talia Bargil
While the two had never met, LeBron James knew that fellow Ohio native and Heat rookie Norris Cole was the real deal long before the young buck arrived in Miami.
As Cole was leading his Dunbar High School basketball team to consecutive state championships and averaging 21.7 points a game during his heyday at Cleveland State, James was just down the road in Cleveland taking notice.
“I was glad to have an opportunity to watch Norris play throughout high school and college. When we acquired him in the Draft, I automatically knew I would want to be a mentor, big brother to him,” said James. “I’m giving him all of the knowledge I have that he wants – and more – helping in his transition from college to the pros. I’m happy to be in the position to be able to do that for him.”
And the poised point guard has embraced the relationship as well.
“After I got drafted, LeBron reached out to me. We officially met for the first time over the summer and worked out a couple times together,” said Nole. “He is always encouraging me, keeping me uplifted, always has a positive vibe. It’s been great.”
Walking smack dab in the middle of the NBA’s most talked about franchise on the brink of a high-pressure season with even higher hopes, Cole says he arrived at the American Airlines Arena ready to prove he belonged.
“By the time the season started, I was so ready to play and show that I was a real player. No one really knew me or what I could do, so I came in with a ‘something to prove’ edge, which is how I’ve made it to this point in my career,” he said.
Stunning his coaches, fans and teammates during the Heat’s 2011 home opener against the Boston Celtics, Cole certainly proved that he belonged. Scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter – many of them clutch shots in the final minutes – he secured a Heat victory in the face of a Celtics comeback attempt. Finishing the game with 20 points, four assists and three steals, Cole quickly found himself in the team’s rotation.
“Playing with guys like LeBron, D-Wade, CB…it’s been a dream come true,” he said.
Launching into the season on a hot streak and evolving into a fan favorite, Cole competed in 65 games and landed himself a spot on the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge, where he picked up 18 points, six assists and four steals.
Now, in the midst of the playoffs and a bit of a shooting slump, a quietly confident Cole says he accepts his post-season role.
“At this point, it’s about whatever is best for the team in order to win the championship. You have to swallow your ego,” he said. “I’m working hard and still learning so I’m ready whenever Coach calls my number…have to get in there and produce. I just want to contribute and do all that I can to help this team get over the hump.”
Also taking heed from team veterans Juwan Howard and Shane Battier, Cole is embracing the learning experience and bracing himself for a championship run.
“We are on a mission and taking it one game at a time. We are all business,” he said. “To be able to compete for a championship in my first year…it’s truly a blessing.”
MORE ABOUT NORRIS COLE:
In his rookie year as a Miami Heat point guard, Norris Cole was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, but in a series of draft night deals, dealt to Miami. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Cole attended Dunbar High School, where he led his team to consecutive championships his junior and senior year, and served as the salutatorian of his high school senior class. A multi-sport star, he was set to go to Walsh University on a football scholarship when Cleveland State basketball coach Gary Waters decided to take a chance on him. After working hard to steadily improve himself over the course of his college basketball career, which culminated in a senior year that saw him average 21.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Cole, who earned his bachelor’s degree in health sciences, was the first person in the Horizon League’s men’s basketball history to be named both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.